Yoga Tips for Spinal Arthritis

How to Incorporate Yoga into Your Arthritis Exercise Routine

Women work their hamstrings using bands.
Straight legged hamstring work with resistance bands can be very effective. lofilolo

If you’ve been diagnosed with spinal arthritis, your doctor or physical therapist may have given you a basic neck or low back exercise program to do. Generally this involves doing range of motion and strengthening exercises several times per day to help you manage symptoms. Below are a few cheat sheets for the most basic exercises for spinal arthritis. (Note, these are for information only. Please see your doctor or physical therapist to get you started with an exercise program that directly addresses your medical condition.)

But some people need to add variety to their workouts in order to keep the motivation alive. If that’s you, you might consider trying yoga in addition to your basic routine. I spoke with Debbie Turczan, MSPT, Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York who shared some tips for using this mind-body exercise form to address spinal arthritis in the low back.

Therapeutic Yoga

Yoga can range in intensity from restful to athletic. A person with spinal arthritis may benefit from therapeutic poses, Turczan tells me. It's a matter of modifying poses so they fit your pain level or condition, and making sure you are not working in pain.

In order to do this, you can "use pillows or bolsters strategically to help support and stretch the spine at the same time."

The first pose she suggested is called supported child’s pose. For this one, position pillows or bolsters lengthwise under your trunk. Stay there for up to 3 minutes. If you have stenosis, assuming supported child’s pose in this way may help open your spinal joints, which may bring pain relief.’s Yoga Guide, Ann Pizer, explains how to do child pose.

Another therapeutic pose is called legs up the wall. People with spinal arthritis may benefit by placing a bolster under their hips when in this position. The bolster should be placed against the wall, and parallel to it. The addition of the bolster may help give extension to your spine, Turczan tells me. “Legs up wall automatically decompresses the spine, and elevating hips decompresses it even more. “’s Yoga Guide, Ann Pizer explains legs up the wall pose.

The third therapeutic yoga pose Turczan suggests is to simply lie on your side with a pillow or bolster placed under your waist. You can add a stretch to the spine by bringing both arms over your head. Try to stretch the side that’s not on the floor. This may help open your facet joints, she says.

Advancing Your Yoga Workout With Spinal Arthritis

For a slightly more advanced yoga workout Turczan says Warrior 1 and Warrior 2 poses, along with side angle pose may help decompress the spine. "These poses train you to lift the ribs up off the pelvis, as long as you support the pose with your abdominal muscles,” she says. Turczan cautions people with arthritis to move very slowly when transitioning between the warrior poses and from either warrior pose to the side angle pose.

Active Yoga When You Have Spinal Arthritis

For the most advanced yoga workout for people with spinal arthritis, Turczan suggests the basic yoga sun salutation sequence because it takes your spine thorough flexion and extension movements without twisting it. The key to making the sun salutation appropriate for spinal arthritis, Turczan says, is to proceed slowly and gently, listening to your body the whole time. If you experience pain, she suggests backing off and instead trying the supported poses.

What If You Have Other Spinal Problems in Addition To Spinal Arthritis?

If the only back condition you are dealing with is spinal arthritis, yoga may provide pain relief and make for a fun challenge as well.

But Turczan warns that if you also have spondylosis or spondylolisthesis, it’s not safe to do the yoga poses listed above. She says the reason for this is that both of these conditions involve fractures in your spine and don’t respond well to twisting or side bending.

If you do have one or both conditions, Turczan suggests focusing on activities that decrompress the spine. Examples include beginner core stabilization exercises and working out in the water. Ask your doctor or physical therapist for guidance if you are at all unsure.


Telephone Interview. Debbie Turczan, MSPT, Clinical Specialist in Physical Therapy at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center, New York, NY. Sept 2011.

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